Entertaining the Troops

The entertainment industry did its part to support the war effort, primarily through USO (United Service Organizations for National Defense) tours states-side and to the Europe and Pacific combat theatres – “across jungle, sea or desert, wherever men fight the war.” Bob Hope was probably the most active of the Hollywood performers who donated their time to boost troop morale; but, there were many others, including Al Jolson, Marlene Dietrich, Martha Raye, and Jack Benny. (YouTube has many video clips of Bob Hope and other performers from various USO shows during WW II. Here’s a sample of one of them, with the song, “I’ll Be Seeing You” sung by Frances Langford: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2owSx5pOvtY&feature=related)

There were 4 main USO entertainment “circuits” that operated during the war years. The first was the Victory Circuit which brought big shows with famous celebrities or complete Broadway musicals with as many as 50 performers each on stateside tours to the largest bases. Second was the Blue Circuit which was a Vaudeville circuit with comedians and 3 or 4 other acts on stateside tours of smaller venues. The Foxhole Circuit, the most renowned of all USO sponsored entertainment efforts, brought performers overseas and in combat areas around the world; tours were located in all war theatres of operations. Foxhole circuit entertainers performed to all sizes of audiences, from as many as 15,000 GIs at a large stadium or airfield to as few as 15 or 20 soldiers standing around a jeep at a remote battlefield crossroads. The Hospital Circuit, begun in 1944, brought special entertainment units to military personnel in hospitals. From 1941 to 1947, USO Camp Shows presented 428,521 performances. In 1945, curtains were rising 700 times a day and, in all, more than 7,000 entertainers traveled overseas to entertain the troops. (http://ww2uso.org/history.html)

The biggest recording stars of the 1940s came together to record V-Discs (“V” for Victory) that were recorded exclusively for the troops and shipped overseas. “Command Performance,” which aired from March 1942 to 1949, was a radio program broadcast over Armed Forces Radio Network (AFRN) exclusively for troops overseas. Hundreds of thousands of letters were sent by troops from around the world, and the AFRN producers took requests directly from their letters. This weekly, 30-minute program provided the troops with a taste of the home front from top music performers and Hollywood stars of the time, who volunteered their services to honor the troops. http://www.armedforcesradionetwork.org/index2.html

 The wartime draft created a major shortage of musicians all over the country. As in defense plants and other previously male-dominated industries, women stepped up to fill the void in the workforce, joining jazz and swing bands all over the nation. During the war more than one hundred all-girl bands formed and toured the country, entertaining troops on army bases, performing at war bond drives, and playing at dances. One such band, the Prairie View Co-Eds (PVCEs), was not only an all-girl band, but an all-black girl band. Although the USO forbade discrimination, army bases were segregated, and black troops deplored the tension that occurred when they attended predominately white USO shows. In response to this racial tension, all-black USO centers were opened, and acts such as the PVCEs were recruited to perform for the black troops.

 Glenn Miller, left his lucrative big band career, and joined the U.S. Army Air Force where he organized The Army Air Force Band to entertain the troops. During its time, the band gave over 800 performances, more than 300 of which were personal appearances. The other 500 were broadcasts heard by millions of listeners. Miller also participated in other broadcasts, serving as the host of ‘Sustain the Wings,’ a weekly radio show.  In summarizing Miller’s military career, General Jimmy Doolittle said, “next to a letter from home, [this] organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theatre of Operations.” On December 15th, 1944, Miller was flying in a plane from the UK to get to a performance in Paris, France to play for soldiers who had recently liberated the city. However, the plane disappeared while flying over the English Channel. Presumably, the plane crashed and Miller was killed. The cause of the crash was unclear. Miller was 40 years old; his status is Missing in Action (MIA).

“The Roosevelt Rap” tells the life story of Franklin D. Roosevelt, from his birth in 1882 to his death in 1945.The Rap deals with FDR’s early political career, the Great Depression years and the World War II years. It seems to be an appropriate summary of the topics discussed in these sections. The lyrics were written by Jeffrey Urbin (2008), Education Specialist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and the music was recorded by Robert Ferin. (http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/education/resources/rap.html) (https://youtu.be/2sfftlJx9Vk)

A long time ago,
In 1882,
A baby was born,
Known to me and to you.

His mother called him Franklin,
His father call him son,
And he grew up destined,
For Washington.

Franklin D. Roosevelt,
a.k.a. FDR,
Was born along the river,
In the town of Hyde Park.

He was the only son,
Of Sara and James,
Collecting stamps and birds,
Were his favorite games.

First he went to Groton,
Then to Harvard too,
Had degrees in Law and History,
By the time that he was through.

On March 17th ,
In 1905,
Franklin took Eleanor,
To be his bride.

They had the same last name,
But that don’t mean nothing,
They were far enough apart,
They were fifth cousins.

How’d he get started,
In politics?
He ran for State Senate,
From the Dutchess County sticks

A Democrat from these parts,
Was rare to see,
But FDR made it,
To Albany.

Then he backed Wilson,
At the National Convention,
It was a move that proved,
To make, a valuable connection.

Wilson soon was President,
And with that came the gravy,
He appointed FDR,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

And then in 1920,
Just for kicks,
FDR made his return
to politics.

Number two upon the ticket,
With a man named Cox,
But not enough people,
Marked the Democratic box.

Making it in politics,
Is tough, you know,
But not as tough as dealing,
With polio.

Now Franklin had a homegirl,
And they called her E.R.
He sent her off on trips,
Both near and far.

She was telling everybody,
That Franklin would be back,
He wouldn’t be stopped,
By a polio attack.

Everyone around him said,
“Hey that’s great,”
And they elected him the Governor,
Of New York State.

That seems pretty easy,
Now doesn’t it?
But it couldn’t have happened ,
without Al Smith.

Things around the Nation,
Were going pretty fine,
That was until October,
Of 1929.

Hoover seemed insensitive,
As if he didn’t care,
He said “Relief was round the corner,”
But the statement didn’t square.

Franklin had the common touch,
He knew how people feel,
And he spoke at the Convention,
And he pledged them a “New Deal.”

People were beside themselves,
They knew not what to do,
That was until November
of 1932.

They elected Franklin President
From Prohibition they were parched,
But he didn’t take,
The reins of power,
Until early March.

He wasted not a moment,
To bring us from malaise,
He passed a slate of legislation,
In just a hundred days.

He was helping all the people,
By themselves and then in groups,
With a recipe of programs,
Some called alphabet soup.
AAA, CCC and the NLRB,
NRA, BOB and the FDIC,
TVA, NRC and the WPA,
He did it all,
He went too far, some Republicans would say.

Now you might think,
that I forgot,
in the alphabet flurry,
SSI, but I did not,

Social Security was ahead of its time,
but I almost left it out,
cause its so hard to rhyme.

Try it out, and you’ll see,
It’s not an easy thing to do,
If I had been FDR
It would have been in term two.

G.W. had warned,
When his term was at an end,
‘avoid entangling alliances,
if you can’.

The American public,
took this to heart,
but FDR knew different,
He was way too smart.

The appeasement at Munich,
Well, it worked for a while,
But give’ em an inch,
And they’ll surely take a mile.

Soon England was clinging,
But just by its toes.
So Franklin to the rescue,
with a garden hose.

Then all of a sudden,
That war across the sea,
Was brought to our door,
In a “Day of Infamy.”

It took the Army,
The Airforce, the Navy and Marines,
In the factories back home,
Rosies took to the machines.

We grew gardens, bought war bonds,
And collected up scrap.
We fought long and fought hard,
And we pushed them all back.

Hitler, Hirohito,
And Mussolini,
Were the Axis leaders,
But we had the Big Three.
Roosevelt, Churchill and
Stalin too,
Were the Allied leaders,
Who won,
I forgot to mention Fala,
He was the man’s best friend.
In the summer of 1945,
The war came to an end.

But Franklin didn’t see it,
For on April 12th he died,
And let’s not even mention,
Who was there at his side.

And so, here has been the story,
Of FDR’s life,
His vision of United Nations,
Carried on by his wife.

The two were finally resting,
In a grave at his home,
In the garden where the roses,
From his name are still grown.